Montreal is known in Canada for its smoked meat and poutine, but in fact, the city feeds on chicken.
The demand for chicken is so enormous in this city that it creates the kind of line-ups that the Soviet Union was once known for. All over the Plateau Mont-Royal, the Portuguese chicken rotisseries are overwhelmed with chicken-hungry queues that wrap around the block, interfering with sidewalk traffic and generating hungry noise late into the night.
Time is money, they say, and I’ve heard that it passes faster as one gets older, but it must stand still at Ma Poule Mouillée (which literally means “my wet chicken” but metaphorically stands for “coward”) on the corner of Rachel and Rue Boyer because its patrons young and old gladly devote an hour and a half of their Saturday night waiting for a saucy breast or thigh. These pilgrims do, indeed, get wet, especially on a rainy Labor Day weekend, but they are certainly not cowards as they routinely brave all kinds of weather.
The situation is equally serious at Romados further up the street, where, despite there being a separate line for those who call to order in advance, no one ever does. People want to wait for their chicken and to feel that it has been well deserved. These are patient and orderly Canadian queues as there is no fear of shortage (albeit the thigh sometimes runs out and an additional 20 minutes are added to the waiting time), but the people immediately ahead of you – once they’ve finally gotten to the counter - inevitably seem to take an eternity to place their order and it is then, so close to the holy grail, that one almost feels like giving up and settling for ribs or something somewhere else.
Slightly less known and significantly less inundated – probably due to the absence of copious amounts of spicy sauce on the portions – is Portugalia, also on Rachel (this stretch of the street can be qualified as the chicken district), and this is the best bet for the discerning chicken lover who has also grasped the value of time. Coco Rico (the sound a rooster makes in Portuguese) on St-Laurent is another serious chicken establishment where people eat silently on bar stools facing a mirror-covered wall, savoring each morsel of flesh and witnessing themselves in the act.
The servers at these restaurants are heroes who spend their days bent over charcoal grills - including in the humid Montreal summer - and yet, they are, without exception, cheerful and pleasant, acknowledging the importance of the order of every seeker who has come and put in the hours. That chicken is, indeed, a sacred food for the residents of this province is clear from the name of its dominant casual dining chain (best known for its rotisserie chicken): St-Hubert. Where else in the world does a chicken joint bear a saint’s name?
Strangely, this age of chicken is also the age of culinary and food television shows of which there are no less than six showing on Télé-Québéc alone. One of them, “Cuisine futée, parents pressés" recently introduced its viewers (busy parents, as its name would have us believe) to new grains which, according to the show’s description, each have their own personality and deserve a place on your menu. It is astonishing how many different varieties of grain there are in the world – enough to feed an entire television show – but the more pressing question remains: is the chicken at Piri Piri grain-fed and if so, are we talking about GMO-modified corn or some finer grain with good character? These busy parents relax watching the grain but then go out and get chicken, and for them, Piri Piri on Mont-Royal is a good choice because its potatoes are roasted, not fried, which is better for the children.
One thing I always notice about chicken products and chicken restaurants is how delighted their mascot chicken appears to be proffering its flesh. The smiling little rooster that is the logo of St-Hubert even has an index finger up in the air as if he’s got a recipe idea. The chicken painted on the side of Ma Poule Mouillée, however, is more honest in this respect. With its beak gaping open, it seems to be in some distress, and its name says it all, besides: the chicken’s absolutely terrified. And for this reason - and for all the tasty Saturday nights and take-aways - I always say before digging in: “Thank you, chicken.”